Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cookie Dreams (or is that kooky?)

Call it my end of the year cookie clearance. Call it early Spring cleaning. Call it me working on something random instead of what I should be doing. But I noticed that there were more recipes for cookies in my bookmark folder than I could possibly ever make (though it sure would be fun to try). Frankly, it was getting pretty crowded in there, with all the Molasses Whatnots, Chocolate Dilly-Bobs and Cranberry Crinkle-Puffs. And more scrumptious baked goods were being posted on my favorite blogs nearly every day this month. Part of my reason for starting this blog in the first place was to be able to organize all my recipes and bookmarks. Guess I took a left turn somewhere. I don't make New Year's resolutions, but if I did, this might be a good place to start.

So here they are... nearly all the cookies I've been dreaming of for the last year or so, not including the ones that are in my cookbook collection (that's something else entirely). Now... let me tell you more about my dream: I dreamt that there were 67 days in the month of December, and 53 pounds of butter in my fridge...

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Christmas Dinner That Was

There's nothing like planning ahead. Or not. Last Wednesday we poured through my cookbooks looking for recipes, Thursday we bought the ingredients, Friday we did all the prep and went to a lovely candlelight service, Saturday we cooked and feasted, and Sunday we slept in  and then attacked the dishes. All in all, pretty darned glorious...

So, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good bite.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Low-Fat Oatmeal Banana Bread


Because sometimes breakfast needs to be as easy as cutting off a slice or two of the banana bread in the fridge...

Because this time of year, it's nice to eat something occasionally that isn't so sweet it makes your teeth ache....

Because sometimes you just need to do something with the black banana collection in the freezer...

Because sometimes the butter needs be used for baking more important things... like cookies.

Seriously... there's no butter in this. That thrills me to no end, and not because of any caloric reasons either... it's just difficult to bake things when you're out of butter (or when your favorite cookie recipes have called dibs on all of it). It's simply a good recipe to have in your bag of tricks, in your arsenal, up your sleeve, or even, oh... in your recipe box (because you're much more organized than I am)...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blood Red And Ever Green

Meet the newest member of our kitchen garden*: a dwarf blood orange tree. It's name is Sanguinelli: from sanguine meaning blood (or cheer, confidence, health, passion) and elli meaning plural for ello... I don't know what ello means. I do know what this gift means to us though. It's a late anniversary/early Christmas present from my mom, and it's a gift that will truly keep on giving.

Our Sanguinelli is about 4-feet tall above the pot and there are about 20 oranges already on it (it's like a gift-with-purchase!), so come this February or March (providing they don't drop from the stress of moving) I should be both ready and able to make something scrumptious with them. In the meantime, it will live alongside our dwarf Meyer lemon on the patio in a big pot on wheels. It will get extra water during the summer months and get pulled up close to the house (and covered) on winter nights when the temperature dives to 32°F or below... like, um, tonight for instance.

Pecunia In Arbotis Non Crescit**... or does it?
Blood oranges are something that I usually just dream about as I substitute regular oranges into recipes that were designed to show off the unique color and flavor of Sanguinelli, Moro, or Tarocco. Sure, I could buy them at the fancy grocery store here in town... or rather, I could if we had a food budget that included exotic specialty fruits. So we decided to grow them instead. Ordinary fruits and vegetables are easily found all over, why give up garden space for cheap and ordinary? The care and feeding are the same whether it's a Blood Orange or a Navel (but guess which one costs less at the market). We'll most likely go for a lime tree next, but in keeping with my philosophy, we should maybe think about one of these other citrus varieties instead... perhaps a Limequat or Bhudda's Hand?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Yes Virginia, You Can Improve On A Family Favorite

I was a week late in making these, and frankly almost didn't make them at all this year. But you know what? If I didn't make them, it would plague me all year. I may not feel it until next December, but it would be there in the back of my noggin, naggin' at me all subconscious-like the whole time. And who needs that? Not me. Been there, done that, didn't like it one bit. Traditions can anchor you. But in a good way. It doesn't mean that there isn't room for new traditions*, just don't throw out the old favorites while you're doing it. Another way to mix things up is to update an old family fav. Tweak with tradition just a bit. See where it takes you.

After last year's bake-a-thon, I stood up and said no to the the green dye** and stated that I would never make our favorite gaudy, gooey fruited, artificial color-laden fruitcake cookies the same way ever again. Only about three people really care about these cookies enough to have expressed any concern over my statement so it's not like I was risking the wrath of thousands or anything. But still, these cookies have been made the same way in my family for as long as I can remember. We never changed a thing. Not ever. Well, aside from the type of booze to use, or whether to replace a pound of the candied pineapple with a pound of the candied citron or not.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Crock, Stock and Two Smoking Hot Loaves Of Bread

Yesterday was the day I dirtied up just about every pot, pan, mixing bowl and measuring cup I own. Two big kitchen projects (plus a few small ones) converged and aligned and generally bumped into each other at every opportunity. I never intend to have days like this. I certainly don't plan them this way, but they sometimes happen. Hey, you do what you gotta do when you gotta do it, right? Well, the lovely turkey carcass in my fridge desperately needed to be dealt with, and I couldn't put off baking the bread another minute. I'd gone far too long without toast.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sub Lime

Project: Use It Or Lose It (Lime Edition) finally came to an end early last week, and it was none too soon. There was one lime left and Thanksgiving was looming large on the horizon. It was time to gear up for holiday cooking. Still hovering over me was the all too recent memory of The Great Lime Marmalade Disaster of 2010*. One lime left... make it good.

I love the idea of blackberry and lime together, so I adapted a favorite cookie recipe from last year and delighted in the result (that means we ate a whole lot more of them than we probably should have). It might be a good idea to wait for a party before making these.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cranberries

Pineapple-Meyer Cranberry Sauce
Picture this: Thanksgiving morning, I sit with my mug of tea trying to clear the night from my eyes and focus on what I need to do: bake a pie and make cranberry sauce. Both are easy. The pie I've made before about a billion times, and the cranberry sauce... even the most complex of those are little more than chop-simmer-cool. Though I'm surrounded by a half-dozen excellent recipe options from holidays past, I decide to go online and look up more of them. I do stuff like that. Last night, too tired (and too cold) to want to stop at the grocery store on the way home for a couple oranges, I had decided to use Meyer lemons in the cran-sauce this year. They go great together in lots of other things, and I'd already seen one recipe in a Sunset magazine using that combination. Two results from my online search looked promising. One was from Bon Appétit and the other from Figs With Bri, a lovely food blog that overflows with warmth and deliciousness.

The holiday season is always a magnet for bittersweet emotions and this week has been the official start of them. Hubs and I are disappointed that we couldn't celebrate Thanksgiving with my family or his (all of them hundreds of miles away). We are overcome by the generosity of good friends offering to share their family table with us. We are concerned about friends who are having serious health issues. So, how do I handle all of this? Simple really, I sit and weep over a cranberry sauce recipe I found on the internet. But I never forget the sweet side of bittersweet: our relatives are relatively healthy and happy, we have loving, caring friends with big hearts, and we have food, clothing, and a roof over our heads. When you boil it all down, anything more than that is just sauce for the turkey... it's nice to have a little on your plate, but it's the meat that matters.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Everything's Better With Browned-Butter

Normally, I am not a superstitious person. Black cats can cross my path all they want (here-kitty-kitty-kitty!). When I find a penny, I'll pick it up with no expectations for the outcome of the rest of my day. I flagrantly disregard chain-letters. Rubbing a rabbit's foot only appeals to me if it is still attached to the rest of the sweet fluffy bunny. I have opened more than my fair share of umbrellas indoors.  And the only bad luck I ever got from breaking a mirror is that I had to clean up broken glass and buy a new mirror... but that's not luck. If I broke a wine glass or a crystal vase, it would have the same outcome. That's just cause and effect, action and reaction.

So I was looking to use up more limes the other day, when what popped up on one of my favorite blogs? Browned-Butter Cranberry Lime Muffins. Was it fate? Destiny? A sign? Does it matter? Not really. I did feel however, that the timing was too perfect to ignore (and they kinda sounded delicious)... I needed to make those muffins. Everyone needs to make these muffins. Here's why... the butter browning on the stove smelled so out-of-this-world good. Seriously, why don't they put browned-butter in everything?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Limes Fly When You're Having Rum

Faux-ito Mojito Syrup
A well crafted Mojito can be a beautiful thing. Tropical yet bracing with a hint of sweet, a wisp of sour and a kiss of mint. Tall, cool and refreshing, it's the perfect quencher on the hottest of muggy summer days. Those are precisely the kind of days when I feel most like a slug however, and slugs don't have the energy (or thumbs) to make a well crafted... anything. What's a thirsty girl to do? Short of hiring a cabana boy (which might get awkward if she doesn't have a cabana), she can quickly mix up the ultimate "Faux"-jito. Basically it's little more than a spiked Italian soda, and I will admit here and now that it will fool no one (unless maybe they've never had a real Mojito before). What my Mojito Syrup does best is to approximate a Mojito. Go ahead and call it a lazy-girl's Mojito. For that is exactly what it is... and I am that lazy girl.

Why am I talking about tropical drinks and heat waves in November? It's because of the 5-pounds of limes I bought of course. I made up a double batch of this Mojito syrup... so that's 6 more limes used up and the last of the fresh mint too (at least until next spring when it will miraculously revive and dominate the side yard once again). Don't ask me how many fake mojitos this makes... I could figure it out, but I don't think I want to know.*

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Money Doesn't Grow On Trees (But Limes Do)

Save extra limes by drying them
Impulse purchases are almost always a bad idea.* You spend money on something that sparkles and winks at you when your defenses are down and before long you find yourself wondering "What, in Heaven's name, was I thinking" (and by the way, where did all my money go)?

Now, antiques are a whole different story. I've learned the hard way (on a handful of occasions) that when it comes to antiques (or any other vintage or one-of-a-kind cool thing), the rule is: "Buy it now—it sure won't be there later" (and by the way, where did all my money go?)

Being broke really cures you of impulse shopping (or antique shopping, or frankly most other kinds of shopping as well). The value of a dollar becomes so crystal clear, it pings. While this kind of clarity is a good thing, I do tend to get kind of obsessive over using up every last scrap of food we buy. To throw food away is like tossing cash straight into the garbage can. Oh sure, it can be put into the compost bin so it's not totally wasted... but that's some mighty pricey compost. You might even call it rich.

So here it is... my confession... I made an impulse purchase. I couldn't help myself. It was such a good deal, and it sparkled and it winked at me. So without thinking it through, I bought it. I bought a 5-pound bag of limes. My justification was that as a seasonal produce item, it fell under the Antique Rule: it may not be around next time (if it is, the price will certainly be a lot higher). Besides, think of the wonderful things I could make with them!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Olive Oil: What A Sweetheart

T
here are a lot of reasons why I like olive oil cakes, not the least of which is that they're quite tasty. Most of the time that's enough. And if that were all they had to offer, it would be plenty. But these cakes have something more going for them. Simply glance over the list of mega-health benefits from olive oil, and suddenly making (and eating) a cake feels almost virtuous.

Then there are those times when I need* to make a cake and I find myself without a dab of butter in the house. Olive oil to the rescue.

These cakes are dense, moist and flavorful, but not so sweet as to make your teeth ache. Even with a sugary glaze poured over the top of them, they are restrained in their sweetness, making them equally at home after dinner, for breakfast, or mid-afternoon with a mug of tea.
Want more? Check out this previous post: Olive Oil Cakes 
    * The word "need" in this instance can be anything from having guests over, going to a potluck, or simply a hankering for cake. 
    **Info regarding the new U.S. Olive Oil Standards

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Autumn In The Vineyards

    O Autumn, laden with fruit...
    O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stained
    With the blood of the grape, pass not. but sit
    Beneath my shady roof; there thou may'st rest'
    And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
    And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
    - William Blake, To Autumn, 1783

    A toast to my favorite season... the colors, the smells, the changes in the air, the low golden light of the sun. Simultaneously yearning for a few more weeks of summer while anticipating the coming of winter. Harvesting nature's bounty and preparing for the long months of short days ahead of us. O Autumn, indeed.

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Blackberry-Peach Porridge

    What happens when you take a few minutes to wash, slice, and freeze summer fruits at their peak (or close to it)? You get to put peaches in your winter porridge. And if you heat up your favorite berry preserve with a little bit of liquid* and stir it up... you get to drizzle it over the peach porridge and taste the warmth of the summer sun on a morning so cold, you could almost see your breath inside the house. So maybe I exaggerated a bit on the temperature, but it is the coldest morning we've had so far this season. You know it's really cold when the sun has been up for three hours... and the temperature is still dropping. Time for a nice big pot of tea... excuse me while I go put the kettle on.

    *A tablespoon of liquid to a quarter cup of jam. Just enough to make it syrupy. Water will do, or try orange juice, lemon or lime juice. Feeling decadent? Use Cointreau, brandy or bourbon.

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    A One-Pot Wonder

    Pasta with Sausage and SpinachOh, how much do I love a delicious dinner with only one pot to clean at the end of it? Let me count the ways. Or not. Why go to all that trouble? Let's just recap: it's delicious and clean-up is a breeze. I'm good with that. 

    Well, this here is just such a dish. A one-pot wonder if you will. It has the added feature of tasting so much more complicated than it actually is, and well, I  kind of like that about it too. Did I mention how adaptable it is? Substitutions, additions, and even subtractions, whether accidental or intentional, are no problem at all.

    The recipe is built around pantry and freezer staples, so it's quite budget friendly and as a result we make it fairly often. Especially on weeknights. Especially in the winter. And especially when the thought of staring down another big pile of dirty dinner dishes will send me right over the ever-lovin' edge. Is it any wonder that this is one of our favorites?

    Sunday, October 31, 2010

    Pumpkin Spice-tacular

    October has flown by at a wicked pace. Here we are at the end and I've only cracked open one can of pumpkin purée so far. There was some talk of a shortage of the slimy orange stuff this year. But then there was talk last year of a shortage too. Whether an actual deficiency exists or not, when people are afraid that they won't be able to get something, they buy lots of it, stocking up so they won't be without. I've personally not seen any evidence of a shortage, but I still bought two big cans of it when one small can would have sufficed. Hey, it's not like I won't use it or anything, right?

    Of course, if the pumpkin in the cans is simply a melange of winter squash, then... I may just make my own stash of frozen purée using these directions from The Kitchn. It will of course depend upon the price difference between winter squashes and the canned pumpkin. But in the meantime I bought the big cans of pumpkin anyway. What did I do with them? Take a peek....

    Wednesday, October 27, 2010

    Pretzels, Baseball and the All-American Pun

    Homemade Soft Pretzels
    A couple of weeks ago I picked up the funnest cookbook at my local library's book store. The library itself is a phenomenal resource (especially with its online features that I can use from home), but as an added bonus they have a used-book store on-site that draws me in like a magnet. The books are super inexpensive (dare I say, cheap?) and magazines are only a quarter. When shopping for fun and sport is no longer an option, it's nice to know that you can feed a shopping need with a buck fifty. So, back to the "new" cookbook I just picked up. I said funnest but I didn't mean it. I meant to say punnest. Not a word either? Too bad, it should be. I have always loved a good pun as does my family and most of my friends (groaning and eye-rolling means they like it, right?). Well, for three dollars, I hit the jackpot of all pun collections with the TBS Dinner & A Movie Cookbook. It's chock full of movie trivia, great sounding recipes, and puns, puns, puns. I don't know when I've had so much fun just reading a cookbook. 

    This book has already earned a spot on my shelf just for pure entertainment value of course, but my general rule for cookbooks is "use 'em or lose 'em", so I chose the Batter-Up Ballpark Pretzels (pg. 18) to start with. The book recommends pairing these with the movie Field Of Dreams ("If you bake it, they'll say yum"), but in honor of today's World Series opener, we're going to skip the movie and eat our pretzels while listening to the big game.* And here's the exciting part (for me at least), I can make a whole dozen for less than the price of one actual ballpark-bought pretzel. That's something to cheer about. 

    Friday, October 22, 2010

    Slow & Saucy Faked Baked Beans

    Not too long ago we had another potluck BBQ to go to. It's not always easy to decide what to bring to these get-togethers, but this time it seemed obvious. With grilled chicken, coleslaw and cornbread already on board, it was like one of those test questions that have you "complete the set". Seriously, what else would go so well with that line-up? Yep, this menu needed baked beans in a "you complete me" kind of way. In fact, what would Autumn barbecues, potlucks, and tailgating be without baked beans? They're such a hearty and satisfying side dish and perfectly complement just about any grilled meat. So how is it that I've never made them before now? Just another of life's little mysteries I guess.

    Unconstrained by any set-in-stone ideas of how they ought to be done, I looked through what seemed like a thousand recipes for one that would work within my time frame and (most importantly) my budget. The most promising recipe was made and foisted upon my friends. It was pretty good. But not great. I made a few changes here and there, then cooked up another batch the following week. What I ended up with was a pretty tasty pot of beans. Unfortunately my friends didn't get to taste those. I wish they had. That second batch had just enough sweetness, just enough tang, and a heap of smoky depth. But they'll just have to take my word for it.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    Strawberry Crostata Is So Last Season

    For the last night of my sister's visit, Hubs grilled bratwurst and I made polenta topped with roasted vegetables. Sis opened up a bottle of local Syrah that went with the food like Cinderella and fragile footwear.

    Dessert was to be a crostata, so earlier that day, while the frozen dough was thawing, we went to the store to pick out some fruit. We pondered over apples, pears, peaches, plums... and strawberries. Strawberries? In October? She wanted the strawberries. I knew they wouldn't be anywhere as good as they are in July, but then again, they would be baked in a hot oven and their flavors would concentrate. It had never occurred to me to make a crostata with strawberries, but why not? You can use virtually any fruit. My biggest fear was the amount of liquid they would let go of. I decided not to worry about any of that and just go for it. Even if it totally botched up, it would probably still taste good. It did.

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    Brown Paper Packages Not Tied Up With String

    The Hubs and I need more fish in our diet. I don't dispute the idea, it's just that I've got some issues. For one thing, we don't have a super efficient vent-fan over our stove and I can't stand the lingering scent of yesterday's fish dinner clinging to the interior of our house... and don't even think about coming near my cast iron pans with that fishy fillet.

    But still, we need more fish in our diet. My normal solution to this predicament would be to fill our dietary seafood needs at a restaurant. Our budget doesn't currently allow that option however. Enter one of my favorite things... fish cooked en papillote*. It's one of those magical preparation methods that look so very fancy, yet are unbelievably simple. And clean up is, in a word (my favorite word), effortless. Do I love this salmon recipe because it's so tasty, or because it's so tidy? Not sure. Maybe I'd better make it again just to see.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Still Gotta Lotta Zucchini

    We were doing just fine keeping up with all the gifted zucchini we've been receiving, until a couple of weeks ago when we just plain burned out. There sat two huge zucchini on the kitchen counter and I could do nothing but stare at them. They stared back. I glared. They glared back. I know the guilt I was feeling was coming directly from them. They knew that I don't like to waste food but they also had to sense that I was at my zucchini saturation-point. The last few we'd received had gotten chopped, wrapped and stashed in the freezer and I thought, "Ha! What a clever girl am I!"... then we were given these two mega-monstrous green squash. I couldn't say no.

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    This Little Figgy Had Ice Cream

    True confessions... I have never eaten a fresh fig. No particular aversion to them or anything like that, they just escaped me. Off my radar. I was a picky-eater as a kid, so maybe it's a stale mental-leftover from my childhood? Maybe it was just because they "looked funny". Who's to say? I was (am) also a very imaginative child, and figs, when quartered, have always reminded me of the ravenous houseplant in The Little Shop Of Horrors and/or the sand-worms of the desert planet Dune. When they're quartered and then cooked, they look like the undersides of starfish. None of those are images of things I'd really like to see on my dinner plate, then or now.

    Once upon a time, I even lived in a house that had a fig tree smack-dab in the middle of the back yard. And yet I never ate of that tree. You see, it was my job to mow around it. It was exceptionally messy and it supported a healthy population of ants. This same yard also had a loquat tree sitting off to one side. Fig... loquat... lawn. At the time, I felt it was about the most useless yard in the world. Now I'm thinking that I might very well have been mowing around a goldmine. But what did I know?

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Apples For Autumn

    A simple apple cake or apple bread is, in my opinion, the perfect thing on an autumn day, whether it be warm, crisp or drizzly (that goes for the weather or the cake). Homey, comforting, and just plain delicious, these apple goodies are loaded with walnuts, raisins, and warm autumn spices. With a big slice of apple cake, a mug of hot tea, and a good book... you can just color me all kinds of contented.

    Thursday, September 30, 2010

    Ghosts Of Cookie Parties Past

    Limoncello Macaroons
    Limoncello Macaroons. These little babies are what all the recent almond blanching and pasting were leading up to. Not that any of it was laborious or time consuming (it wasn't), but if it was... it would have been so worth it. Crisp-ish on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. Each cookie a perfect bite. Almost more like candy than cookies. The only thing better than these cookies, would be these cookies dipped in dark chocolate.

    Fun and easy to make, once they've completely cooled* they tasted um... [insert your favorite ultra-positive food descriptor here]. Lately I've run out of synonyms for "delicious". It was the French Tomato Tart that ruined me for adjectives. Let's just say that these are some of the best cookies I've ever made in my whole entire life and I should not be left alone in the house with them. Ooh...I'm thinking about dipping them in dark chocolate again.

    Monday, September 27, 2010

    The Prodigal Pastry and a Peach-Blueberry Crostata

    I learned (or uh, re-learned) a valuable lesson this past weekend. Have a back-up. That's it... have a back-up. Turns out that I had no back-up for my #1 favorite simple dessert of all time: the Peach Crostata. I made it, like, 47 times last year.* So many times you'd think it would be committed to memory by now. But no, my brain doesn't work that way. That's why I have this blog. The original link to the recipe was here on the blog, right where I put it last summer. When I clicked on said link last weekend though, I was given the option of purchasing the article containing the recipe or subscribing to the newspaper for full access to all their archives. What? Deep breath. It's o.k., I wrote it down... somewhere. No time to search, so I quickly threw together the Peaches & Herbs Shortcake instead.

    The shortcake was a fine substitute but I was still mighty vexed over the apparent loss of the crostata recipe and the next few days were spent tearing the house upside-down looking for it. At least there was some comfort in the thought that, should I not find it, I could buy it. Harumpf. I seriously considered purchasing the article, even though the thought of it riled me up like a wet cat. That's how much I liked that recipe.

    Well, the lost became found. Sort of. I finally located my notes yesterday, scribbled into one of the six or seven partially filled notebooks that seem to float from room to room here like indecisive specters. It's not a good system but I'm working on it, I really am. New habits (at least the good ones) take time. Backing-up is a very good habit. Favorite recipe? Save it to a file, be it paper or digital, or better yet, both. Don't ever be caught without your favorite pastry recipe at your fingertips. Save yourself that particular panic and back it up... today.

    Friday, September 24, 2010

    Almonds Take A Pasting

    Chalk one up for yet another staple that can be made (easily) from scratch and is cheaper and better tasting than the store-bought stuff. This time around it's almond paste.* I don't use it too often—usually never, come to think of it. It's really expensive, so I tend to avoid it. I've probably passed over countless tantalizing recipes because of this one ingredient. Now that I can make it at the drop of a hat... well, things are going to be different. In fact, no sooner did I wrap up my first batch of almond paste and stick it in the fridge, but I had a "why not?" moment and made a second batch right then and there. It's the easiest stuff in the world to make (once you've blanched your own almonds). All snug and double-wrapped in plastic, the extra batch of almond paste is stashed in the corner of my freezer and will no doubt make an appearance around the holidays... if not sooner.  
    I have one almond paste-based cookie recipe waiting to be made (the one that first inspired this flurry of DIY activity), but what else can I use almond paste in? I'm sitting here armed with some mad new skills... what can I unleash them on?
    • These Frangipane Cherry Tarts from King Arthur Flour look pretty tasty.
    • The prospect of making my own Amaretti di Saronno (like the expensive imported ones in the pretty red tin) has me clapping my little hands together with glee. Of course, I really love how the imported amaretti come wrapped in pretty papers, and I do love that red tin...
    • What else? I need ideas!
    *FYI: Marzipan is very similar, but definitely not the same, as almond paste.

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    Summer's Last Hurrah

    Goat Cheese & Tomato Tart
    Next summer, when we have more tomatoes than we'll know what to do with*... I'll know exactly what to do with them. I will make this tart. I will make this tart over and over and over, all summer long... and we will never tire of it. It's that good. There is so much going on in this tart I can't even begin to describe it. So I won't. I'll just let the ingredients speak for themselves: some homegrown tomatoes, fresh herbs, a smear of homemade mustard, a drizzle of olive oil, tangy goat cheese, a touch of honey... all caramelized, concentrated, cozy and warm, and in the loving arms of a crisp pastry shell.

    I rolled the pastry dough out quite thin so I could make two tarts and use up all the tomatoes we had picked. We'll still get more tomatoes over the next few weeks, but not in this quantity. This was summer's last hurrah. Here, baked together in a tart shell, were our Sungold, Early Girl, Juliette, and Sun Kiss, snuggled up cheek-to-cheek.*

    Saturday, September 18, 2010

    May I Take Your Coat?

    There are these cookies I want to make... but they require a specialty* ingredient that I don't have, and can't justify spending money on right now. It's also not the kind of thing that can be substituted for or left out entirely either.

    It's almond paste.

    But these cookies I saw looked so sweet, so simple, so tempting. Sometimes a recipe will call out to me, "bake me up and love me!" and I just can't ignore its plaintive plea. I fight it sometimes, but don't always win. Cookies for some reason seem to call out the loudest. These little sweet things I saw the other day, were downright insistent.

    So I came across this recipe, it cried out and was heard. My first thought after, "oh dang, I don't have any almond paste" was, "I wonder if I can I make it myself?". Internet says..... yes!, almond paste can be made from scratch (and pretty easily too). You start with blanched almonds. Stop right there! I didn't have those either... but guess what? I found out that almonds are ridiculously simple to blanch yourself (and way cheaper too).

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Next Lime, Things'll Be Different

    Yesterday there was a big bowl of limes on my counter. I found a Lime Marmalade recipe in a book I have on preserving, and there was a Lime Curd recipe on the facing page. Between the two of them, I felt I would make good use of the limes and have a couple of tasty treats to stash in my pantry to boot. So much enthusiasm, so much eagerness and optimism. There's only one place for all that unabashed positiveness to go... yep, right into a brick wall.

    You see, the Lime Marmalade turned out beautifully except for one little detail... it's bitter. B-I-T-T-E-R. And I can't stop moping like a small child. Out came the old "kick me, I had a food-fail" mental whine-list. It goes something like this: What a waste of... time, fruit, sugar, canning lids, electricity, and oh, all that clean-up afterward... for nothing! Ugh! (now repeat multiple times)

    Was it any wonder that I had major amounts of trepidation about making the lime curd today? I dragged my feet for as long as I could but I knew that if I didn't make it today, it just wasn't going to happen. I hung what little hope I had on the stick of butter that goes in it. Marmalade has no butter in it, but curd does... and butter makes everything better, right? With a stick of butter as my shield and banner, I marched myself back into the canning-arena (formerly known as my kitchen).

    Friday, September 10, 2010

    Men Who Stare At Goat Cheeses

    Fresh goat cheese has such a bright and tangy quality, it's utterly delightful... (yes, there was a sort of a pun in there). A little bit like cream cheese, but tangier... and not so creamy; it's really versatile and pairs perfectly with summer's (and fall's) bounty of fresh fruits and veggies. The next goat cheese I get will undoubtedly find its way into one of the following recipes...
    On a recent solo trip to the market, Hubs discovered an aged Gouda made from goat's milk. He discovered it by way of free samples. Not only did he tell me all about it when he got home, but he made a point of showing it to me the next time we were at that market together. That was him hinting. A lot.

    Aged goat cheeses need to be treated a little differently than the fresh ones, as they lend themselves best to simpler preparations such as: breaking a piece off, placing in your mouth and chewing slowly. You can optionally choose to follow each bite with a sip of compatible wine. But only if you insist on over-complicating things.

    * I just drooled on my keyboard. I hope nobody noticed...

    Wednesday, September 8, 2010

    Maya's Quinoa Salad

    When I first saw this salad late last May, I couldn't wait to make it. But while the calender said it was virtually summer, we were still being rained on and ripe tomatoes were months away. All summer I have impatiently waited for both good weather and the perfect occasion to make this salad. Last weekend was it: sunny and warm, and our cherry tomatoes* were at their peak. The salad was not only worth the wait, but I think it tasted even better the next day.

    Click on over to the lovely Maya*Made blog for this super healthy Quinoa Salad recipe, and if you're feeling a little crafty, make a few of Maya's Picnic Bowl Scrunchies too... they're fun, easy, and the perfect thing for potlucks and picnics!
      My Notes: Used red quinoa. Shredded the carrots instead of dicing them. Zested the limes before juicing them for the dressing. Added the lime zest, a splash of basil oil and a couple cloves of minced garlic to the dressing. 

      Here are some other quinoa recipes that look good...
      Pronounce it: Quinoa = KEEN-wah 
      *"Sun Gold" cherry tomatoes... little bursts of sunshine. Even this year, this very weird-weathered year, they out-produced all the other tomatoes we planted.

      Friday, September 3, 2010

      Upsetting The Apple Tart

      Apple Tart Upset
      This is a story of two tarts. Two apple custard tarts. I would like it to have been a story of one bad apple tart and how it redeemed itself and became a good apple tart and made everyone around it happier for having been near it. This is not that story.

      No, this story is about two apple tarts that were alike in many ways but were dramatically different in others. One's strength was the other's weakness. Neither of them were very good, but neither were they all bad. Their goodness, overshadowed by their badness, brought joy to no one and left only disappointment in the hearts of those who tried to love them.

      Apple Custard Tart #1: Went together beautifully. Crust was flaky and delicious. But when you hear the voice in your head say: "Wow... that sure seems like an awful lot of ground clove!", listen to it. Ponder. Evaluate. Trust your knowledge and experience. Tell yourself it's o.k. to not follow the printed directions to the letter. Allow that typos happen and other people's tastes are not your own. Someone may actually want a numbing sensation after finishing their dessert. Perhaps they have some pending dental work? What a waste. I couldn't even look when Hubs dumped it into the trash can.

      Sunday, August 29, 2010

      Like Breakfast For Dinner

      Usually when I think about eating breakfast for dinner, I picture long interstate road trips and truck stops that are open all night and advertise "breakfast served all day". Well, why not? I've certainly consumed my share of breakfast combo plates in the middle of the night and in the middle of nowhere. 

      Breakfast-for-dinner can also be a way to stretch the food budget out when the cupboard is dangerously close to being bare. A couple eggs and a little cheese are all you need for the most rudimentary of omelets. It's a simple and filling meal, if a little bit boring. Poke around in the fridge and pantry though and see what else is hanging around that might wake that omelet up. After all, it's like a blank canvas. Create something unique with it.

      I started with some chard that needed using up, added some bacon (we had splurged on it a couple weeks ago), a little fresh sage and finished with the last of the shredded mozzarella (an odd choice of cheese perhaps for an omelet, but it's what we had). It all went together fast and tasted fantastic. Definitely one of those "more than the sum of it's parts" type dishes. I just love those. All that was missing was a glass of chilled Rosé and it would've been the perfect late summer dinner on the patio. Without the Rosé... it was still pretty much perfect. 

      Saturday, August 28, 2010

      Sourdough & Sour Cream: Another Waffle Weekend

      Unless you live in some weird alternate universe, the phrase "Honey, do we have to have waffles for breakfast again?" has probably never been uttered.... ever. Certainly not at my house. There simply is no such thing as waffles too often. However... that being said, waffles are the ideal brunch for weekends, Saturday mornings especially. Like they were made for each other. They're easy to make, messy as well, and utterly delicious. Seriously now, how can you top that? Well, around these parts: butter, real maple syrup and fresh fruit (especially berries) is the preferred method. However, I am as always, open to trying other waffle toppings.
      "This is going to be fun! We can stay up late swapping manly stories, and in the morning... I'm making waffles!" - Shrek (the movie)
      It pays off to think about  Saturday morning breakfasts on Friday night. On occasion. In fact, you kind of have to if you want sourdough (or yeasted) waffles. There's no other way around it, but it's easy and worth it. Mix a couple of things in a bowl and go to bed. How hard is that? The great thing about sourdough waffles is it's the perfect thing for using up the old starter when it's time to feed it. I always hated the thought of wasting that cup of starter each time I fed it... now I don't have to, I just make waffles with it! Unlike sourdough bread, sourdough waffles actually call for "spent" or hungry starter. How cool is that?

      Wednesday, August 25, 2010

      Feeling The Heat: Sustenance for a Suddenly Sizzling Summer

      Sustenance for a sweltering summer.
      Almost this entire summer, through last Saturday... 68-79°
      Sunday... 85°
      Monday...94°
      Tuesday...111°

      To think that just a few days ago we were still having hot porridge and pots of tea for breakfast (and we were laughing at the absurdity of me wearing Ugg boots in August). Clearly that's all over now. After two months of the mildest (or as some say, "coldest") summer on record, I was actually hoping for a little heat.*  I just didn't think that we'd get ALL of it at one time. Jimminy Crickets!

      Even though our appetites are somewhat diminished from the excessive heat, we still do get a little hungry. Deliberately turning on an oven or stove and cooking hot food is the last thing on my mind though (which means it simply isn't going to happen).

      Saturday, August 21, 2010

      Onion Soup For Onion Haters

      A WORD PROBLEM: You have married a good man. A man you love and who loves you back. You have committed yourselves to each other before God, and vowed to love and cherish each other for the rest of your days on this earth. This good and loving man hates onions. One day you come across a tasty sounding recipe for Five Onion Soup and think what great thing it would be to make for dinner. You set about making shopping lists and gathering the ingredients you will need. Are you:

      a) Trying to lovingly guide him past his unreasonable dislike of a flavorful vegetable by preparing it in new and interesting ways?

      b) Scatter-brained and forgetful? Or are those the same thing?

      c) Counting on the fact that he won't want any of this delicious soup so you can have it all to yourself?

      d) Just plain confused about why you do some of things you do, but feel that anything is better than being predictable, and besides, a blog is cheaper than therapy?

      e) All of the above.

      Thursday, August 19, 2010

      Famous Local Beauties

      There are three pounds of Gravenstein apples* on my counter. What to do? They're just a little bit special. Gravensteins don't keep well, and they don't travel well either. What good are they then? Well, they taste absolutely lovely. Mostly sweet, a little bit tart with something almost floral hiding in there too. And they can more than hold their own when baked in a pie. When you see Gravensteins, you just buy them. Period.  It'll be another year before you see them again.

      So now that I got 'em, what do I do with 'em? How to use them to their best advantage? Perhaps one of these gorgeous apple recipes I've had my eye on...

        Monday, August 16, 2010

        They Go Together Like... [fill in the blank]

        Peanut Butter, Banana, Chocolate & Coffee
        Peanut butter, banana, chocolate & coffee. Four regular residents in my kitchen. Sometimes they like to be on their own, but they always love getting together when they can and seem to truly enjoy each other's company. They're good friends. They bring out the best in each other by being supportive, encouraging, and complimentary. With so many different and delicious ways to combine them, where does one start?

        Start here... How To Make Homemade Peanut Butter (Joy The Baker) and make your own peanut butter from honey roasted peanuts... that's right, honey roasted peanut butter. Pure genius. How could I not try it? The honey roasted peanuts were cheaper than the plain ones after all, and I'm all about saving money. It is, incidentally, by the way, and in fact, fantastically tasty. Is making peanut butter from scratch cost effective? Not sure. Math was not one of my strongest subjects, especially when trying to compare weights and volumes, but if you can find peanuts that are at a really good price... go for it. At least you'll know what is and (maybe more importantly) what isn't in your peanut butter. O.k.? Now, go work through the following two lists of recipes...

        Friday, August 13, 2010

        Chocolate, When Administered Properly, Can Be Therapeutic

        Last night, instead of making dinner, I  just wanted chocolate pudding. Truth be told, I just wanted chocolate-anything, but I had happened across some recipes for chocolate pudding recently and decided that was the direction I needed to be going in.
          
        This is the first time that I've ever made pudding that didn't start out powdered and in a box. And just like making pancakes from scratch for the first time, for the life of me, I can't figure out why anyone needs the instant packet. It took less than 15 minutes, start to finish! Just how much time do we need to save anyway? The part that takes the longest is waiting for the pudding to chill in the fridge and even the instant variety can't do too much about that.

        I know that better quality chocolate will produce a better chocolate pudding... that's a given. This is something you can whip up fast though, without a trip to the store. No expensive ingredients, just regular chocolate chips. Was this the best chocolate pudding I've ever had? Oh, heck no. But it didn't have to be, because in no time at all there was chocolate pudding in a bowl in front of me. I also had a spoon. The rest should be pretty obvious.

        Wednesday, August 11, 2010

        Almond Butter Guest Post @ Crunchy Betty


        Find the deliciously easy directions for making Homemade Almond Butter in my guest post over at www.crunchybetty.com (and learn how much fun it can be to smear food on your face!)

        Sunday, August 8, 2010

        Hearts & Flours

        The film Stranger Than Fiction may not rank up there with Casablanca or Dr. Zhivago as one of the most romantic movies ever made, but it boasts one of the sweetest scenes ever. When befuddled IRS auditor Harold Crick brings cute but acerbic baker Ana Pascal some flowers in an attempt to woo her... they aren't flowers, they're flours. Ten different kinds of flour. His gesture spoke in ways that he could never have put into words. It showed creativity, earnestness and depth of feeling. It was tender and it was sweet. And that my friends, is how you melt a girl's heart. In case you were wondering.

        Now, I have dropped the odd hint to the Hubs about how great it would be to get "flours", but to no avail. I think he prefers to be original. So the other day, with waffles on my mind, I asked him stop at the store on the way home so I could pick up some flowers... er, flours that is. Rye flour, barley flour, whole wheat pastry flour, oat flour, graham flour... (the pastry flour and graham flour aren't for the waffles, I just kind of got carried away).

        What could be more romantic than flours? Hearts! Today I tried out my new/used Sweet Hearts waffle maker and used my bunch of flours to make some multi-grain waffles. I mixed the wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls and approached the waffle maker. At first I was disconcerted that there was no heat setting knob or dial to adjust. I looked online for manuals but came up empty. O.k., so sometimes you just have to jump without the net and hope for the best.

        Saturday, August 7, 2010

        Waffling

        "To waffle" is a verb. It refers to indecision. I wouldn't know anything about that. Yes, I would. Well, no... o.k. maybe a little. Let's just say... It's something I'm working on. 

        "To waffle" could also refer to the act of making waffles. We wouldn't call the person making the waffles, a "waffle maker" (that's what we make the waffles with). So if you waffled, you would be a waffler, right? And just so we're straight on this... being a waffler is not the same as being THE Waffler; as in the wannabe super-hero in the movie Mystery Men. If I were a super-hero, a waffle maker would not be my first choice in weaponry. Of course, wielded unconventionally, a waffle maker (especially an old all-metal one) could put some serious hurt on a bad guy. But super-hero or not, if you needed something solid and heavy with which to defend yourself or your home, chances are your waffle maker is in the back of that awkward corner cupboard in the kitchen, or above the fridge behind three florist vases, seven logo glasses, and a Salad Shooter. Better to be the kind of domestic super-hero who can whip up a steamin' batch of fragrant waffles on any given Saturday morning. Waffles make people happy, and making people happy is the most super of all super-powers.

        Someone who has truly mastered the waffle maker, would of course be known as a Master Waffler. Achieving this skill-level is no small feat. I should know. I am a novice-waffler. Recently bequeathed/burdened with a gift of not one, but two pre-owned waffle makers, I know that the road ahead is crispy and filled with little square divots designed to trip me up as I discover the secrets of enwafflement*.

        Wednesday, August 4, 2010

        Tomatoes On My Mind

        Our five tomato plants have taunted us with a total of 7 little ripe tomatoes last month and then nothing since. They were freaks. Delicious freaks. Cruel, that these few ripened so much earlier than the others. I know more are on their way, I can see them, a multitude of green and gold marbles hanging in clusters. The lesson is patience and the trick is to just keep my eye on the prize. That doesn't mean I'm camped-out in the back yard or installing a tomato-cam in the garden; but focussed on what I know in my heart to be true: that in just a few short weeks, we'll be swimming in tomatoes.

        In preparation for that glorious time of year, I've compiled some links to a few tomato-rific treats and tidbits... you know, in case shoving them in our face as fast as we pick them gets too tiring... It could happen.
        * That's a joke... admittedly a bad one, but a joke nonetheless.

        Saturday, July 31, 2010

        Peaches Aplenty

        It's just not summer without peaches. Lots and lots of peaches. While it's great when you hit on something fabulous to make with them, something you could make over and over with no complaints, it's also fun to mix things up a bit and try something new. The repeat favorites around here are of course the recent Peaches & Herbs Shortcake and last summer's Peach Crostata. If I made nothing else but those two recipes with each and every fresh peach that came my way, I would be a happy happy girl. But when I look around and see so many other wonderful ways to prepare and feature this luscious summer fruit... well, I start to cave. I wonder if maybe I might be missing out on something great. And after all, I have the crostata and shortcake in my back pocket (in a manner of speaking), and can make them at any time knowing they'll be wonderful. Why not venture out a little. See if there is a new favorite waiting to be discovered.

        Here is a list of peach-centric recipes for breakfast-time, snack-time, dessert-time, and even cocktail-time. They all sound just peachy to me...

        Saturday, July 24, 2010

        Colonel Mustard, In The Pan, With The Chicken

        While trying to come up with a use for my extra super zippy homemade mustard, I remembered this recipe that I made a few months back. It got two very enthusiastic thumbs up from the Hubs which is always a good thing. I used a store-bought Dijon mustard that, as I recall, was too hot for us to eat straight out of the jar. Simmering it with the cream is what mellows the mustard a bit in this wonderful dish.

        This chicken tasted just as good when reheated as leftovers. We even had extra sauce left over that we poured over everything on our plates the next few nights. It was that good. We loved it over green beans and potatoes especially, but it would taste wonderful over virtually any vegetable: asparagus, broccoli, carrots, spinach... it's all good.

        So, can I call it Chicken Dijon if I don't use Dijon mustard in it? I'm sure it wouldn't be allowed by the EU, but calling it Extra Super Zippy Trippy Homemade Guinness Mustard Chicken doesn't exactly slide off the tongue. You might say that it doesn't quite cut the mustard.*

        Wednesday, July 21, 2010

        Some Like It Hot

        ...and some, well, some do not. I fall into the latter category at least when it comes to food. Why then am I so intrigued with making my own mustard? Well for one thing... we ran out. Yep, currently mustard-less. Now, while mustard is not something that we put on a lot of the foods we eat, when we do use it, it's generally crucial to the outcome of the dish we're making. Like grilled cheese sandwiches for example. O.K. maybe Chicken Dijon* is a better example. But a smear of spicy mustard inside a grilled cheese can be pretty dang fabulous.
        "I'm not headlined in the bills, but I'm the mustard in the salad dressing just the same." [O.Henry, "Cabbages and Kings," 1904]
        Also entering into the equation is my ongoing pursuit of saving a buck, learning new things and avoiding excess packaging. Etcetera. As such, I attempted to wade into the shallow end of home mustard making, looking to splash around a little and get my feet wet. Instead, I suddenly found myself pushed into the deep end, street clothes and all. Now, to an experienced swimmer, that might be amusing, but to those more comfortable on terra firma... sheer panic.

        Saturday, July 17, 2010

        Peaches And Herbs

        The Lemon Herb Biscuits I made on a whim the other day, brought on a true "food and brain pairing" moment. My synapses fired in sequence long enough for me to realize that those biscuits were just a few tweaks away from an outstanding shortcake. The light bulb over my head was all aglow and my tummy said "Do it! And do it soon!".

        The closest I think my mom ever got to making biscuits was when she would make strawberry shortcake (shortcakes are essentially sweet biscuits), a dessert she made often and one that I've always loved. She always used fresh strawberries when they were in season and always always made real whipped cream. I called to ask her what recipe she used for her shortcakes, and the answer was what I pretty much expected to hear: "It was on the box of Bisquick". Well, that was the era (at least she never used Cool Whip). Never one to leave things alone though, she would always add orange zest to the baking mix which took it from ordinary to extraordinary. Sometimes all it takes is that little something extra.

        This dessert that I made has ever so many little somethings extra. Too many? Nah. Sometimes more is more. I think this is one of those times (or should I say "thymes"?). So here is my peachy-herbal twist on that quintessential summer dessert...

        Wednesday, July 14, 2010

        Sipping On Sunshine

        Monday morning was drizzly gray and I was a moody blue. I needed instant sunshine. I needed an influx of happiness. But how can you generate that from within a foggy funk? Fresh fruit (and a little alliteration) always perks me up. Maybe it was time to do something with the mangoes I got at the market the other day (2 for $1.00!). It's as good a starting point as any, and frankly, a lot better than some.

        Saturday, July 10, 2010

        Tender Sweet Apricots

        I always have some sort of dried fruit in my pantry. Always. Dried fruits keep practically forever and are endlessly versatile. One of my very favorite dried fruits is the dried apricot. Soft and sweet with a honeyed-tang. They are amazing in everything from oatmeal at breakfast to turkey stuffing at Thanksgiving. Dipped in dark chocolate, well then  they've dried and gone to heaven.*

        In summer though, my thoughts always turn to fresh fruit, and the little fragrant fresh apricots often get overlooked as I bee-line to the berries, peaches, plums and melons. They even get overshadowed by their own genetic offshoots: pluots, apriums, etc. Whats next? Grapricots? Aprinanas? It's time I took another look at the subtle and classic blushing beauty that is the fresh apricot...

        Tuesday, July 6, 2010

        Summer Thyme Biscuits

        I just received the ultimate compliment: "OMG! These biscuits are wonderful!"  And this was from a man who grew up eating biscuits as a regular feature at dinner time. To say I was pleased as punch would be an understatement.  I thought they were pretty darned great also, it's just that I don't have a lot to compare them with.

        Saturday, July 3, 2010

        On An Especially Clear Day

        A couple of weeks ago during a break while doing more canning, I laid down on a bench in the backyard (I thought it would feel good on my back, and I was right). No sooner did I open my eyes when I very nearly gasped out loud, my breath caught in my throat. The sky overhead was so clear and blue and there was a patterned veil of little clouds draped across the middle distance. It looked like lacy white bubble-wrap (the kind with the big bubbles). It's probably futile to even attempt to describe the sensation I experienced, but I have to try, if only to remind myself of it later. The sky seemed... endless. It pretty much is endless, infinite and all, but everything was so clear... it actually felt endless... and I could see all of it with a clarity that my near-sighted eyes could only dream of.*

        Friday, July 2, 2010

        Sandwich Bread

        Newly empowered by making my own mayonnaise, I was now faced with a need to find ways of using it up. We normally don't consume a lot of mayo but the recipe made 2 cups of it, so we racked our little brains to come up with all the different uses we could think of. One of those was: sandwiches. Yeah, I know, stop the presses. Since we stopped buying bread and started making it, I haven't been able to wander too far away from sourdough. So I don't. But faced with a mayo surplus, a nice sandwich loaf seems to be in order.